Home » Migraine fact sheet

Migraine fact sheet

Migraine is more than just a headache. It is a chronic medical condition for which there is no cure. Attacks are characterized by severe head pain and often are accompanied by nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light and/or sound. These physical symptoms of migraine lead, in turn, to debilitation and emotional suffering that impacts people with migraine, their families and society at large.

Key Issues

  • Migraine is common – Migraine affects an estimated 23 million Americans.
  • Migraine disproportionately affects women – 75 percent of sufferers are women.
  • Migraine is undertreated – Experts say 59 percent of women with migraines have not been diagnosed by a physician.
  • Migraine steals family time – Sufferers say migraine disrupts their families and causes them to cancel activities.
  • Migraine is misunderstood – Sufferers say no one understands how painful their migraines are and worry that people believe they use their migraines as an excuse.
  • Migraine carries an undue burden for employers – Migraine costs employers between $5.6 billion and $17.2 billion in lost labor each year.

Migraine facts

  • Symptoms – Migraines are throbbing pain felt usually on one side of the head. Most sufferers experience nausea and sensitivity to light and sound and the pain is worsened by activity. Attacks can last from four to 72 hours. Ten to 15 percent of people with migraine experience aura, which is a sensory disturbance such as flashes of light, blinking lines or actual hallucinations.
  • Age – Migraine occurs predominately between the ages of 25 and 55, with peak prevalence at approximately 40 years. Migraine is not exclusively an adult disorder, however. It is believed that 5 to 10 percent of all children experience attacks, and toddlers as young as three have been diagnosed definitively with childhood migraine.
  • Economic cost – Migraine represents a considerable economic burden in the form of lost labor within a highly productive age group. In the U.S., migraine sufferers were bedridden more than 3 million days each year. This results in an estimated loss of labor between $5.6 billion and $17.2 billion yearly.
  • Personal impact – Migraine has a devastating impact on sufferers and their families. In one study, women and men with migraine said their attacks disrupt family life and have forced them to cancel business and social activities. Migraine sufferers also feel misunderstood; in the same study, almost 45 percent of sufferers said that nobody understands how painful their attacks are.
  • Menstrual association – In childhood, boys are slightly more likely to get migraines than girls. As soon as children hit puberty and girls begin menstruating, however, the ratio shifts strongly in favor of women. Sixty percent of women with migraine say their attacks occur during the days just before, during or immediately after their periods. One quarter of these women say they never get migraine at any other time.
  • Treatment – Lifestyle changes, prophylactic treatments and abortive medications are all tools used to reduce the impact of migraine on sufferers. Lifestyle changes may include maintaining standard sleep patterns and avoiding foods that have been identified as personal triggers. Drugs may be prescribed to help prevent attacks (prophylactics) or to abort attacks that occur.
  1. South, Valerie, R.N. Migraine: Everything You Need To Know. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1996.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Rapoport, Alan M., M.D., and Sheftell, F.D., M.D. Headache Relief for Women. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1995.
  4. International Migraine Lifestyle Impact Study, ACC International Limited (1997).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Rapoport, Alan M., M.D., and Adleman, James U., M.D. “Cost of Migraine Management: A Pharmacoeconomic Overview,” The American Journal of Managed Care. Vol. 4, No. 4, p. 531.
  7. Headache Relief for Women.
  8. “Cost of Migraine Management: A Pharmacoeconomic Overview.”
  9. South, Valerie, R.N., Migraine, pp.74-75.
  10. “Cost of Migraine Management: A Pharmacoeconomic Overview.”
  11. International Migraine Lifestyle Impact Study, ACC International Limited (1997).